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O.C. man arrested in $4.7-million gold mine scheme

November 23, 2009 |  6:18 pm

Fbi_gold An Orange County man has been arrested and charged with bilking an elderly couple out of nearly $5 million in a phony gold mine scheme, federal prosecutors announced Monday.

John Arthur Walthall, 54, of Laguna Beach was indicted in October on nine counts of wire fraud, money laundering and other charges for allegedly conning a couple in their 80s from Laguna Niguel into investing more than $4.7 million in a partnership to extract gold from old mines in the Imperial Valley, Nevada and Brazil.

He told the couple he had invested more than $3 million of his own money in more than a decade worth of researching the gold extraction process. By investing in Advanced Recycling General Partners, Waltham told the couple they would receive a salary and get to approve expenses.

But prosecutors allege Walthall used the money for personal expenses, including alimony, child support payments, rent and an eHarmony.com account. He also used the money to make a $10,000 payment to a film school for his son and to buy a hyperbaric oxygen chamber worth $60,000.

FBI agents arrested Walthall last week at a friend's home in La Habra, where he was staying.  They found $500,000 in gold coins under his bed and seized three vehicles he allegedly bought with the victims' money: two Ford Excursions and a Ford 450 pickup truck.

If convicted on all charges, Walthall faces a maximum penalty of 150 years in federal prison, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office said.

He is being held without bond until Dec. 7, when he is scheduled to be arraigned.

-- Tony Barboza in Orange County

Photo: Gold seized by federal authorities. Credit: FBI